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Hooked on saving sea life

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Wisit Itthiwarapornkul, 50, is the president of Go Eco Phuket. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marine science from Kasetsart University and has worked in the dive industry for more than 10 years.

Here, he talks about ways to resolve conflicting local interests in the sea and makes suggestions about what we all can do to preserve the health and beauty of our beaches.

PHUKET: I don’t think people actively set out to damage reefs or harm protected marine animals. Tourists who go to beaches and islands want to enjoy themselves, and the tour companies who take them, as well as fishermen, seek to make a living.

The problem is, of the people using the beaches and the sea, there are too few engaged in preserving them. If we don’t get more groups – including the government – more involved, we are doomed to irrevocably damage the very things that create jobs for so many people and give pleasure to so many more.

Let’s start with fishermen. Their interest in the sea is diametrically opposed to divers’. Their job is to take fish out of the sea, and the more they take, the more money they make, in the short-term. Divers want to see as much aquatic life as possible, so dive companies need a pristine environment to attract customers.

It’s sometimes difficult for divers and fishermen to talk to each other because their interests are so different, but I understand both parties – we just have different objectives.

The fishermen say that they don’t have sufficient education to find other jobs, and don’t want to in any case, because fishing is their family tradition.

Given that they are here to stay, we want them to understand environmental issues better. Go Eco Phuket has been trying to set up meetings or classes for fishermen to help them appreciate the dynamics of marine ecosystems. We need them to understand why they shouldn’t break fishing laws, why they should only use loose-meshed nets and why they should not fish in protected areas.

For those who can’t understand, law enforcement needs to step in and take action.

Here too we need to make significant changes. We hear again and again that there are not enough officers to look after all areas of the sea. The solution is simple: get more manpower.

Phuket generates huge revenues for the country from people coming to enjoy the sea and beaches.

That’s enough reason to find the money to supply more manpower to keep the environment attractive and healthy.

We continue to see flagrant violations of fishing laws. At the Similan Islands National Park at night you can see lots of lights coming from fishing boats fishing in restricted areas. Officers are doing their best to catch fishermen who don’t obey the law, but without more manpower they can’t make a significant dent in the problem.

The government needs to increase the budget of the Marine Police, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and any other relevant office so that they can increase their manpower.

The other thing that should be done at the government level is setting up new zoning for snorkellers and divers. Snorkellers are more likely to damage reefs through inexperience than divers, and they should be restricted to certain areas.

We also need to put some controls on the number of boats making day trips. When there are not enough moorings for the boats, anchors thrown overboard may damage coral reefs. Ideally, if we limit boats, we can do it in a way that is fair to both large and small companies.

The bottom line is that we can all help keep the sea healthy. Don’t litter. If you see garbage in the sea or on a beach, collect it and throw it away properly. This is an easy way to contribute to keeping our beaches beautiful forever.

— Saran Mitrarat

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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